That night, Blackwing waited uneasily for Meg O’Connor. She hadn’t been returning his calls. He hoped the encounter with the Scarecrow had not broken the pretty girl’s spirit.
He had been summoned by Red Robin for a special mission, and he tried to keep Redbird off his mind as he waited in the shadows of the Gotham City Fire Department.
If he’s right, then I should not have too long to wait, mused Charles Bullock. Red Robin says the Crane kid tipped the cops off about his nutty siblings and their plan to honor their late father by creating such fear in the city. Making firefighters afraid of fire would cripple the city and allow them to perform arson unchecked.
He checked his mask for the special filter Red Robin had designed to immunize him from the phobia gas. All was in place.
Then he saw the Scarecrow, garish and dynamic and oddly athletic, mysteriously darting from one shadow to another.
“Fear gas for the air vents,” mused Blackwing as he swung down to land on his foe’s solid back. He was thrown across the room by the hulking figure.
“Give up, Frank! We know who you are!” he said, ducking a swift right hook and connecting with three blows of his own.
Frank Crane laughed maniacally and choked Blackwing with powerful hands.
This kid is strong as an ox! thought a gasping Charles Bullock as he slammed both palms against this Scarecrow’s ears. He fell free and rolled out of the man’s path.
They circled each other warily, and then Scarecrow hurled his gas canister at Blackwing’s head. “Got to catch it!” he said as he grabbed it out of the air.
Scarecrow darted in and kicked him viciously in the ribs. “Die! Die!” he yelled.
Blackwing ignored him and set the canister down safely, taking several terrible blows while doing so. Then he stood up. “Now it’s my turn!”
He twisted the scarecrow mask around to blind the huge foe and clamped his cuffs on the Scarecrow’s ham-like fists. Frank Crane roared and ripped at the cuffs.
“By gosh, he’s going to break free!” said Blackwing as he tried to stop his enemy.
“My father wanted to see all of Gotham in fire, but you dared cross me! I’ll remember you!” cried Frank Crane.
Blackwing grabbed a fire extinguisher and slammed it against Scarecrow’s head. He fell flat, and Blackwing sighed with relief. “I would get the biggest one,” he joked.
Scarecrow crouched on the roof of Gotham City Police Headquarters behind the Bat-Signal itself. He laughed madly at the sight of a bound Sergeant Harvey Hainer Jr.
“Spiders are your personal demon, eh? Too bad there are so very many of the little dears crawling across your helpless body!” he ranted. Hainer screamed as the fear gas drove him into delusions of terror.
Nicholas Crane smiled behind his ghastly Scarecrow mask. “Fear gas in the police air-conditioning vent. Fear of police, fear of guns, fear of uniforms! Thus does Jonathan Crane Sr. conquer in death what he was so tormented by in life!” cackled Nick Crane.
“I think you are as sick as your demented father ever was,” said a grim Red Robin.
“Well! The hero come to right all wrongs! You drove my father to his death because of your hatred!” he shrieked.
“He died because of his own hatred!” said Red Robin as he dodged the agile Scarecrow. He spun to kick the leaping man, only to miss. He’s as nimble as the old Crane, mused Red Robin.
“Fear me! Fear me and die!” cried Scarecrow as he released a cloud of foggy vapor.
Red Robin walked determinedly through the cloud and knocked the man down. He rose again and received a second swift punch.
“Impossible! You are immune to the gas! You wear no mask!” cried Nicholas Crane.
“I came prepared for any gas attack. Immunized myself for any variety of your toxin,” said Red Robin as his foe scampered for the roof edge.
“Like father before me, I’ll die at your bloody hands! You’ll be ruined!” cried Scarecrow. “I was taught by a better man than you!” He prepared to leap off the roof, only to land in a hidden net.
“I also prepared for such a suicidal tactic,” said Red Robin. “I was taught by the best man of all.”
He freed Sergeant Hainer and drew the netted Scarecrow into custody. The fear gas canister lay unopened nearby.
Hope Kara is doing as well, he mused.
Lilith Crane laughed madly as she piloted a sleek stolen plane over Gotham City. She wore the Scarecrow costume without worrying that her curves were obvious. She no longer cared if she was identified as a woman. After all, she was going to earn the right to the costume with this sensational stunt.
“Dropping the fear gas across the whole city will reduce Gotham to a no-man’s land!” she cackled. “The madness will honor father’s name and memory.”
“Couldn’t you just send a card like everyone else? I sure Hallmark makes a card for I’m on a crime spree for you, Daddy!” said Power Girl as she slipped into the seat next to Lilith at super-speed.
“Curse you! Since you’ve started hanging around our city, I came prepared for you or any other flying fool like Green Lantern! Even you can’t stop a gas!” Lilith said, releasing the fear toxin.
Power Girl inhaled the entire cloud and flew into space, where she exhaled it. She then swooped down to land the plane by force.
“I’ve got super-lungs. Your brothers would have noticed by now!” she grinned.
Lilith cursed and sat helpless in rage. She was smart enough to know she could neither outfight nor escape from the Kryptonian.
Meanwhile, Meg O’Connor found herself in Jonathan Crane Jr.’s library. “A wonderful collection you have here,” she said as she scanned the room for any clue to his involvement in the Scarecrow crimes. She had no idea that before she met him, he had tipped the police off to his siblings’ mad plans.
“Indeed! It is my pride and joy. My father instilled a love of reading in me. He also taught me about fear… as did my siblings. Oh, they tormented me though I was eldest. I was too retiring for their outgoing tastes. Still, while they went in for the current vogue in slasher-style graphic violence and shock-value cinema, I preferred the Hitchcock method of suggested fright. The unseen, the suspenseful always delivers more true terror than obvious violence.”
Meg nodded as she listened.
“I turned my siblings in to the authorities,” he said. “They have been using Father’s costumes and inventions to honor him, or so they believe. They lack his subtle genius… which I have.”
“The Scarecrow, or Scarecrows, are your siblings,” said Meg. “How brave of you to do the right thing.”
He laughed coldly. “I care little about the right thing. I value the aesthetics of fear. They are not in my class or father’s. Thus, I rid society of them. The heroes like Red Robin will lock them away, and while they occupy him and his ilk, I shall watch my own plan take fruition.”
“What plan?” asked Meg.
“I’m poisoning the Gotham drinking water with toxic levels of fear gas!” he said.
Meg turned pale and rushed for the door.
“It’s locked. We’ll all alone, Officer O’Connor!” said Jonathan Crane Jr.
Red Robin frowned as he examined the retrieved canisters of fear toxin. “We did a good job,” he said. “All three Scarecrows captured, and no real harm done. Still, something rubs me the wrong way about their good citizen sibling. The volume of chemicals stolen would far exceed the amount of toxin they had. Where’s the rest? Their lairs were empty, according to O’Hara’s men.”
“You worry too much,” said Power Girl. “Still, maybe that other Crane is not so saintly. Want me to x-ray vision his place?”
“Yes, and super-hearing, please,” he said.
“He’s gone nuts! I see a struggle!” Power Girl cried. “I’m on it!” were her final words as she grabbed Red Robin and streaked into the apartment at super-speed.
Jonathan Crane Jr. was choking Meg O’Connor and laughing madly as he did so. “You’ll be my first murder… followed by millions of others as my toxin hits the Gotham water supply,” he said coldly.
Power Girl slammed him across the room with a gust of super-breath. “Hands off, straw man!” she said.
Red Robin bent over Meg’s fallen form. “She’s OK… just stunned,” he said.
“You dare come here? You, who killed my father?!” cried Crane.
He rushed for Red Robin who said, “P.G., the water supply comes first!”
She flew off and reached the main supply avenue. “Freeze it all. Fix it later!” she said, and did so.
Red Robin faced Crane.
“I am the true master of fear!” shouted Crane. “While my siblings took the obvious costumed approach, I planned my own subtle brand of terror. Millions dead without warning… is that not true fear?!”
“You’re sick,” said Red Robin. “You need help. I can see Scarecrow passed his disease on to all of his descendants, but I’m the cure to that breed of madness!” He approached Crane, who hurled down a pellet.
“Fear gas! It’ll make you mad!” he said.
Red Robin passed through it safely due to his earlier immunization. “Let me help you,” he said.
Jonathan Crane Jr. laughed, “Help me? You are helping me by playing the hero to my villain! What delicious sport!”
Red Robin ducked his punch and shoved him against a wall. “Murder is not a game,” he said slowly. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I can’t risk any further plans of yours coming to fruition.”
Crane frowned as Power Girl returned and said, “I stopped all the water from entering Gotham’s main holding pipes. It’s better to leave the city without water than have them all risk drinking his junk!”
Crane gasped. “You can’t do this to me. It is not the way I saw it. The book can’t end this way!”
Power Girl glanced at Red Robin in wonder.
“It’s not a book,” said Red Robin. “This is real life. I need to take you in.”
Crane hurled down a final pellet. Red Robin deflected it, and it broke open to create a fire.
“My books! My precious books!” shrieked Crane as a bookcase went up in flames. He threw himself toward the fire in desperation.
“Smother the flames. I’ll take him!” said Red Robin.
Power Girl did so as her fiancé dragged Jonathan Crane Jr. out of the room. “He’s mental! He’d rather die himself than see his books harmed!” she said.
Red Robin held the villain by one arm as he fingered through charred pages. “He never connected to anyone outside of books before, and that’s another tragedy we can blame on the original Scarecrow,” he said. “With warped children with ruined lives as his legacy, Scarecrow truly earned the right to his master of fear title. They are his final and terrible creations.”
Power Girl carried Meg O’Connor in her arms and nodded sadly.
Later, Meg O’Connor received a visit from Charles Bullock.
“You had the right idea all along, partner,” he said as he placed flowers on her table.
She smiled. “Yes, but again, I nearly ended up a victim.”
“So we keep training,” he said.
She smiled again. “Thanks for the vote of confidence… partner.”
Elsewhere, Danny Falco rubbed one hand over his bald pate and caressed the brassy blonde in the tight minidress who sat on his lap.
“Oh, Danny, you are sooo strong!” she giggled.
He grinned. “Just like a little girl like you wants her man!”
A chill wind entered the gangster’s room as Frostbite arrived.
“Strength cannot save you from the cold touch of death,” said the daughter of Mister Zero, “a touch ever denied to one such as I! You neglected to pay Crimelord, so you must serve as example, if not as ally!”
Falco shoved the fish-netted blonde off his lap, and she said, “Now?” He nodded.
She blasted the dark-clad Frostbite with icy breath as Falco ripped off a bald wig and padding to reveal the Red Robin emblem. He rushed toward Frostbite as the cold stunned her, and he slapped manacles on her wrists.
“The STAR Lab boys whipped up a device to contain her long enough for us to trap her,” said Red Robin. “Good thing we were able to convince the real Falco to let us take his place. Seeing the bodies of her past victims did the trick.”
Frostbite fought to free herself, but the manacles kept a constant stream of freezing cold circulating through her body. She seemed in a trance or hibernation of sorts.
Power Girl nodded as Frostbite’s high heels clattered across the floor. “Another victim of a bad parent,” she said. “Mister Zero’s sins came to rest upon his daughter.”
“It’s an old story,” said Red Robin. “We’re made by those who raise us… for good or ill.”